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A Troubling Appointment

Through no fault of his own, Gross' combined deanship will be flawed and ineffective

By The CRIMSON Staff

On Monday, current Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 was officially appointed to be the Dean of Harvard College. Adding to his current responsibilities, Gross will now fill the position from which Harry R. Lewis ’68, the current College dean, was unceremoniously fired last month. After Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby took this decisive step to radically alter the Harvard College administration, we would hope he had more detailed plans for successfully carrying out the restructuring of the deanships. Unfortunately, all evidence points toward another conclusion.

At every turn, the restructuring has provided ample occasion for concern. The new uber-dean position—haphazardly combining the immense responsibilities of two large and complicated bureaucracies under one individual—is fundamentally flawed. As Dean of the College, Lewis has had a challenging, full-time job addressing undergraduates’ outside-the-classroom concerns. It will be a travesty if this critically important job is neglected in the coming years. And yet with the equally essential task of reforming Harvard’s undergraduate curriculum ahead of him—the huge job for which he was initially hired—it is hard to imagine that Gross will not have to do just that. In all likelihood, Gross will be forced to delegate responsibilities rather than paying student life the kind of careful, close attention an independent Dean of the College can give.

This lack of hands-on student advocacy will be no fault of Gross’. The twin task that Kirby has set out for Gross is by its very nature beyond the reach of one individual. Kirby may believe that he is streamlining the College with this appointment; in fact he is hobbling its new leader from the start with an unrealistic burden.

It is profoundly disturbing that on the eve of his new job, Gross appears to agree. He seems ambivalent about doing Lewis’s old job along with his own—and who can blame him? Gross is clearly eager to get started on the curricular review, to devote all his time to this immense task, and he deserves the time and resources to do that job well. By saddling him with the combined deanship, Kirby has sabotaged Gross’ plans for curricular review—even as he engineers a system guaranteed to distract from student concerns.

Perhaps it is no shock that student voices will be muted in the ears of the new dean—after all, the restructuring itself was done in an outrageously secretive manner. Had the bureaucratic shakedown been on the table in any public forum in advance—rather than being hastily introduced alongside Lewis’ firing—students and Faculty could at least have voiced their concerns and had some chance of being heard. Instead, the new plan has been foisted on those it will most affect, without even a nod towards community consultation.

Just a few months ago, the Harvard undergraduate community appeared on track for improvement. A dedicated, enthusiastic Dean of the College was approaching his second decade as dean, listening to students’ non-curricular concerns and addressing them as he thought best, drawing criticism along with praise—but always earning respect. A recently-appointed Dean of Undergraduate Education, known for his passion for improving students’ academic experience, was preparing to deal with the biggest flaws in Harvard’s world-famous education. Now it seems that neither of those jobs will be done as well as they could have been. Given the developments of the last months, we hesitate to think of what disastrous turn the administration will force next on the rapidly-changing College.

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